Saturday, December 12, 2009

Toronto drug officers face more corruption accusations!

A CBC News/Toronto Star investigation unearths previous allegations
By Dave Seglins, CBC News

"A few bad apples."

That's how former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino described the force's problems when six former officers were charged with conspiring to beat and rob drug dealers of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The officers, all members of Team 3 of the Toronto Police Service's Central Field Command drug squad, are still awaiting trial after almost six years.

"I am deeply saddened and disappointed," Fantino told a news conference in January 2004, commenting about the charges against the six. "I can, however, tell you that the allegations are isolated and confined."

His comments came at the conclusion of an internal probe headed by RCMP Chief Supt. John Neily into the allegations or wrongdoing, which led to 40 criminal charges against the officers.

But police documents that surfaced for the first time this week in a Toronto lawsuit show anti-corruption investigators repeatedly briefed Fantino about similar allegations against other drug officers.

These warnings came several months before Fantino made public assurances that alleged wrongdoing was isolated to Team 3 of the drug squad. A joint CBC News/Toronto Star investigation has found that Toronto police did not allow Neily and his team to complete their investigation into those allegations.

'There was a thief on that team'
The TPS documents were unearthed as part of a move to expand a lawsuit against the force this week.

They show another drug squad was being scrutinized by Neily's investigative unit — dubbed the Special Task Force (STF) — for offences similar to the ones Team 3 was accused of.

One of the documents shows that Neily briefed Fantino about those allegations against Team 2.

"These cases are unsubstantiated [without interviews with the drug suspects]," Neily wrote in a confidential briefing note to Fantino in May 2002. "I temper that … however, by telling you that there is very good reason to suspect someone on that team is a thief."

Neily first assigned two investigators to focus on Team 2 in late 2001. They uncovered troubling questions over the officers' handling of drug money seized during searches at banks.

STF investigators wrote in internal documents in late 2001 that in three separate cases, Team 2 officers did not follow standard procedures when seizing money from safe deposit boxes.

The investigators reported members of the team repeatedly asked bank staff to leave when seizing cash from safe deposit boxes, leaving no second witness to count the cash, counter to bank policy.

They found that team members delayed handing over seized cash and improperly stored the cash.

There were also discrepancies between the amount of seized cash reported by the officers and the amount of cash the defendants said they possessed.

Neily, however, couldn't continue the probe as none of the alleged drug dealers would come forward to file an official complaint, fearing what they said about the officers could be used against them in a legal setting.

The stalemate led Neily to concede that the probe into Team 2 was stalled. But in a July 2002 note to Fantino, he said his suspicions still weren't allayed.

"While I have ordered the nine cases of interest [to be] no longer investigated involving the team of Danny Ross, as reported to you in May there is no doubt in my mind that there was a thief on that team and it is my belief so far that it could have been one or both of [Team 2 officer] DC Mark Denton and/or Mike Abbott," Neily wrote.

None of the Team 2 officers named in the ongoing lawsuit by Milos Markovic, a formerly accused drug dealer, would agree to an interview. Their lawyer, Gary Clewley, denies any theft and says the STF uncovered only sloppy police work.

"They do thousands of these cases and, at the end of the day, we have a handful of people who claim that they were ripped off. And when you're doing thousands of cases, mistakes get made," Clewley told CBC News in a recent interview.

"Documents don't get filled out properly. Things don't get put where they're supposed to. That doesn't amount to theft unless you start the investigation, working from the assumption that they are thieves and set out to prove it. I think that's what happened."

Renewed interest in 2003
Neily and his task force renewed their interest in Team 2 in early 2003, after getting Markovic to file an official complaint.

Before then, Markovic had repeatedly refusing repeated requests from the STF to complain about Team 2.

He relented after striking a deal that any statements he gave to the STF would not be used against him later, either in criminal court or in a lawsuit he filed against the police service.

Markovic was arrested in Oct. 28, 1999, by the Ross/Abbott crew and charged with dealing cocaine. Those charges were eventually dropped.

Markovic and his wife, Natasha, filed a suit in 2000 against: nine Team 2 officers who searched their home; the Toronto Police Service; its board and former TPS chief David Boothby. The TPS internal documents that surfaced this week were a result of a court motion in Markovic's suit.

The Markovics claimed the nine officers beat him in his pizza shop and later robbed him of close to more than $361,000 in cash and valuables. They sought $1.3 million in damages.

STF investigator Det. Neal Ward said in a report about the Markovic case that "the work of the Central Field Command Drug Squad was sloppy at best and a hair's-width away from being criminal."

Neily had set dates in early 2003 to meet Markovic to take his statement of complaint. But that meeting — and the probe into Team 2 — was suddenly called off.

CBC News has learned that in March 2003, Fantino met with Neily, other STF investigators and TPS chief financial officer Frank Chen. According to sources who requested anonymity, Fantino threatened to cut off all funding for forensic audits on officers suspected of wrongdoing.

Probe moved to Internal Affairs
The sources said Fantino cited financial pressures and the need for Toronto police to be prepared for a potential "terrorist attack" as reasons for the STF to wrap up its work, closing the door on any further probe of Team 2 officers.

"I was shocked," Peter Biro, Markovic's lawyer at the time, told CBC News.

"Chief Supt. Neily called sheepishly and apologetically and told me the interview was cancelled … that the investigation into the Markovics' complaints was at an end, [and] would not continue."

"Chief Supt. Neily said on at least one occasion in that telephone call that it was not his decision. The explanation? A lack of resources and a need to wrap up the task force. That was the official reason given to me," Biro said in a recent interview.

Neily, now retired from the RCMP, told CBC News that "given our resourcing limitations and our focus on Team 3," the STF had no choice but to hand the case back to TPS Internal Affairs.

"It was a Toronto Police Service decision," Neily told CBC News when asked why the STF didn't handle it or do financial checks on officers on the other suspect team.

Neily recommended in a November 2003 document he titled, "Notes From the Wall: We Are Not Done Yet," that someone should interview Markovic and begin an undercover operation to try to get to the bottom of the allegations against Team 2.

Fantino, now commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, refused to be interviewed for this story.

Markovic now learning details
TPS Internal Affairs did eventually take a statement from Markovic in the summer of 2003, but closed the file, concluding he was not a credible witness and too much time had passed.

TPS conducted no further probe of the officers or their personal finances. Markovic claims he's been kept in the dark about the internal investigations for years.

After repeated attempts, Markovic's legal team — now headed by high-profile Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer — secured a court order in December 2008 compelling the TPS to hand over hundreds of pages of documents, including the confidential briefing notes to Fantino about the Team 2 officers.

In February, the Toronto Police Service handed over the documents. Falconer, after reviewing the documents, decided to effectively rewrite the lawsuit Markovic had filed in 2000.

Falconer has now filed a motion in civil court that seeks to expand the lawsuit, claiming that beyond theft and assault by officers, the TPS failed to properly investigate the corruption allegations.

"It was deliberately covered up," Falconer told a Toronto court at a Wednesday hearing. "They pulled the plug."

In an interview with CBC News, Falconer brushed aside suggestions that the STF's mandate was limited to an investigation of Team 3 and it had to end at some point.

"Why not tell the Canadian public the truth? Pure and simple," he said.

"Why not acknowledge that they had concerns about members of Team 2? Why say the allegations are confined and isolated, when in fact the concerns were the opposite? Why not acknowledge that the investigation is being unplugged for a lack of resources?"

Falconer said he fears the failure to let the STF fully investigate Team 2 was all part of a plan set in motion back in 2001 when Fantino set up the internal probe.

He pointed toward an internal TPS recommendation that the STF probe could "avert a public inquiry" and "provide some assurance that it was just this one team."

A Toronto judge has reserved decision on whether he'll allow an expanded suit to go to trial.

STF findings of irregularities in 1999 drug case:
•On March 19, 1999, officers Mike Abbott and Darren Cox told a bank manager to leave the room while they counted and seized cash from a safety deposit box in connection with a criminal investigation of Roman Paryniuk.
•The manager was to step outside in case there were harmful substances in the box, but the officers themselves took no protective steps.
•The two took an hour to return to the station, stopping for a sandwich on the way, despite carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in their cruiser.
•The money was placed in a safe in the detective's office, and the money bags were not sealed. The money was not formally counted until March 25, almost a week after the seizure.
•The officers reported counting $664,000. But Paryniuk reported $200,000 was missing from the box.
•The probe in this case was dropped when Paryniuk refused to complain formally.
Source: STF report summary in an affidavit filed by Falconer Charney LLP.
In the late 1990s, nine separate drug dealers accused members of Team 2, led by Det. Danny Ross and Const. Mike Abbott, of stealing more than $600,000 in cash from them.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lead-footed OPP constable remains on duty

By Trevor Wilhelm, The Windsor Star

The OPP officer who ran a stop sign and crashed his police cruiser — while allegedly doing nearly double the speed limit — remains on duty and could even return to the road helping catch speeders.

Const. Kristopher Gagnier, 26, an Essex County officer for three years, was charged with street racing after crashing his marked cruiser into a Kingsville ditch.

When Gagnier ran the stop sign at a T-intersection on Graham Side Road, he was allegedly going 157 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. He was on duty at the time of the high-speed crash, but not responding to a call.

The Highway Traffic Act dictates that the OPP cruiser he was driving will be impounded for seven days. Gagnier’s driver’s licence was also suspended for seven days. But that doesn’t necessarily bar him from patrolling the roads.

“He just can’t drive for seven days,” said Sgt. David Rektor with the OPP western region headquarters.

“There are other options available to members. They can be the second officer in the vehicle and assist that way. But driving is out of the question for the seven-day period.”

Police said the single vehicle crash happened around 9:30 p.m. Thursday when Gagnier, on routine patrol, failed to stop at the intersection of Graham Side Road and Road 7.

Rektor said he didn’t know what the cost of damage was to the car, but added there was “extensive front end damage.” He also didn’t know if the officer will have to pay for the repairs or if taxpayers will be on the hook.

More than 15,000 drivers have been charged with street racing since the law was introduced in 2007.

Rektor said Gagnier is the first Essex officer to be charged, but several other OPP officers elsewhere in the province have been charged while on duty.

Gagnier’s first appearance in provincial court is scheduled for Jan. 4. Rektor said Monday it was too soon to know if there will be a separate investigation under the Police Services Act, a provincial act governing the conduct of police officers.

“We have to abide by the same laws, rules and regulations that a citizen would,” said Rektor. “However, we’re also subject to considerations under the Police Services Act.”

“We’ve got high standards of conduct and professionalism that we expect from our officers in order that we can honour the public trust we’re given. That’s why the Police Services Act is there. It offers the ability to ensure our people are holding up their responsibilities.”

Rektor said it’s not acceptable for an officer to shirk those responsibilities.

“The OPP holds our members accountable for their actions,” he said. “Public trust and confidence is the cornerstone of what we do. Without it, we’re lost. When you accept this position of trust, you accept a lot of responsibility. You have to know that people expect you to lead by example. That’s the message our commissioner, right from the onset of this, has made clear. The OPP will lead by example and be held accountable.” or 519-255-6850

Source: Windsor Star

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Couple taken for a ride

BOWMANVILLE -- "It's not a mixed message. You can't be intoxicated in a public place. It's an offence."

-- Insp. Charlie Green, Durham Regional Police

That argument may be a tough sell.

Especially considering that two people charged with public intoxication -- and they are not alone in this roust -- were standing on the corner, hand-in-hand, waiting for the arrival of A Ryde Home, a local designated driver service.

It's a service, in fact, that 61-year-old retiree Jack Knowler and his girlfriend, Bev Rogers, use every Thursday when they take in karaoke night at Hanc's Bar.

"You do the right thing, you drink but you don't drive, and this happens? How is that right?" he asks. "How is it right that you get a $65 ticket for public intoxication while quietly waiting for your DD to pick you up?

"If that's not a mixed message, what is?"

He has a point.

Jack Knowler, who retired from the PPG paint plant in Oshawa two years ago, has no criminal record, has never had an impaired charge and certainly no previous public intoxication charge and, for sure, he is not one of those locals who, in the vernacular, are "known to police."

And neither is Bev Rogers, who runs a small construction company.

Both are decent, responsible, and law-abiding.

"If we have more than one drink, we always call the service," says Knowler. "My home is less than a mile from Hanc's bar, so I could have probably driven home, taken the chance, and likely beaten the odds.

"But I didn't. Instead, I did the right thing.

"And what did it get us?" he asked. "One ticket for her and one ticket for me."

On the night they were charged, Jack Knowler and Bev Rogers had first gone to Maddy's Pub, just up the street from Hanc's, and that's where Knowler left his truck -- about a block and a half from Hanc's.

The main drag of this town has little or no public parking, and so that is where cars are left -- in the parking lots of the pubs, the restaurants, and the Legion.

Publican Vic Hanc sees this ticket tactic as nothing but harassment, and was on the phone last week to his local councillor and MPP to raise a stink about it.

"By issuing these tickets, the police are enticing people to try to drive home," says Hanc. "It just blows my mind.

"It's on-the-spot judgment, with no discretion. They should be thanking those people for not trying to drive."

Martin McLellan, a 62-year-old retired GM worker, left his truck in the Legion lot a few nights ago and, on the way back from his local pub -- his cellphone to his ear talking to the A Ryde Home dispatcher -- suddenly had a police cruiser pull up beside him as he walked along the sidewalk.

"I wasn't staggering, but they said I was drunk," says McLellan. "Then, when I told them I was just talking to the DD service, they said they'd give me a ride home.

"And they did -- but not without first giving me a $65 ticket for public intoxication.

"I wasn't too happy about it," says McLellan. "The DD service would have cost me no more than $20, tip included.

"What are the cops trying to do?" he asks. "Put us behind the wheels of our vehicles?"

Colleen Monk is the entrepreneur behind A Ryde Home, one of a dozen such designated-driving services in the area.

She has been in business three years, has seven cars on the road and, during the so-called Festive RIDE season, she will bump up her fleet to perhaps 15 cars.

And she, too, is upset about what the police are doing.

"It's getting a bit ridiculous, doesn't you think?" she says. "My driver literally pulled in to pick up (Knowler and Roger) at the same time the cops pulled up.

"But the cops didn't care.

"Here we have people doing the right thing, and getting penalized for it," she says.

"And it is just not right."

Dressed in her A Ryde Home jacket with Designation Driver embroidered on the front, the driver dispatched to pick up Jack Knowler and Bev Rogers in the parking lot of Maddy's, which closes early on Thursdays, says the police cut the couple no slack.


"The officer saw my jacket. He knew what was going on, but he couldn't have cared less," says the DD, who asked that her name not be published.

"All he said was that they shouldn't have been hanging around a dark parking lot in the first place."

Insp. Charlie Green heads up the Bowmanville detachment of Durham Regional Police, a force that routinely publishes the names of those charged with impaired driving on its public website.

And, as far as he is concerned, the cops did no wrong issuing those public intoxication tickets to people waiting for their designated driver to show up.

"When I was transferred here three years ago from Pickering, I could not believe the number of drunks I saw on the streets," says Green. "But it's a lot better today.

"Being drunk in a public place is an offence, and I do not want to see (drunken people) stepping off a curb and getting whacked by a car."

After checking the logs, he noted that the charges against Knowler and Rogers were laid by uniformed members of the DRAVIS squad -- Durham Region Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy -- whose role as described on the force's website is to "reduce violence, increase community safety and improve the quality of life for members of our communities within Durham Region."

According to Green, part of the DRAVIS detail is to check out local drinking establishments for trouble near closing time, and "to enforce the law."

"They take what is basically a zero-tolerance approach to everything," says Green. "It's high enforcement.

"When it comes to public intoxication, they may take you home, but you're going to get a ticket."


Toronto Sun

Bryant case postponed until late January

A hearing in the case of former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant, who has been charged in connection with the death of a Toronto bicycle courier, has been put over until Jan. 22.

The former prominent politician and head of Toronto's business development agency, Invest Toronto, did not appear in court Monday but was represented by his lawyer.

Bryant faces charges of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death in connection with an August altercation involving cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard.

Sheppard, 33, died of head injuries after being dragged along a stretch of Toronto's Bloor Street while hanging on to Bryant's car.

Police say Sheppard had an altercation with Bryant and grabbed onto his car. Witnesses say Bryant then drove away with Sheppard hanging on to the side of the vehicle until he fell off.

Since Bryant once appointed judges and oversaw Crown prosecutors, Vancouver lawyer Richard Peck has been brought in to prosecute the case, which is being tried in Toronto.

An out-of-province judge is expected to preside over the trial once it begins.


Ontario not guarding tax dollars enough: auditor

The Ontario government is doing a poor job of determining who is eligible for welfare and disability aid and hasn't done enough to recover more than $1.2 billion in overpayments, says the province's auditor general.

In a report released Monday, Jim McCarter said government supervision of social assistance programs is not strong enough.

McCarter cited one example in which the Community and Social Services Ministry failed to follow up on five tips about a family that received $100,000 in taxpayer-funded social assistance.

"If we can tighten down and make sure that only people [who] are entitled to get money actually get the money, you know it does give the government some flexibility when they're looking to make sure they can look after those people that really need the money," he told reporters just before the release of the report.

The government has a total of $663 million in overpayments under the Ontario Disability Support Program, the auditor's report said.

Meanwhile, the number of unrecovered payments made under Ontario Works, the province's welfare program, stands at $600 million.

"Once you've overpaid the money out, it's very difficult to get it back. The key thing with these two programs is you've got to stop the overpayment from occurring in the first place," he said.

The government said there was already $1.1 billion in overpayments when the Liberals came to power in 2003, but admitted that amount has grown since then.

McCarter stressed in the report that "public funds were often not being spent with enough due diligence and oversight to ensure that taxpayers were getting full value for their hard-earned tax dollars."

The government needs to be more vigilant in ensuring that only those people actually eligible for benefits receive them, said the report, which is released annually and serves as a report card on the government's performance.

"It is not the absence or inadequacy of rules or guidelines that was the problem," McCarter wrote.

"Rather, I believe that there is a culture or mindset among some of those accountable for managing and delivering government programs that does not always prioritize getting maximum value for the taxpayer's dollar," he wrote.

Big markups for health-care equipment
McCarter pointed to the health-care sector for more examples of inefficient spending, saying the government isn't trying hard enough to get the best deals on medical devices like hearing aids and wheelchairs.

The government spent $347 million last year on assistive medical devices, up 90 per cent since the last audit in 2002.

McCarter found that companies selling those devices were charging hefty markups, sometimes more than double the cost for which they would ordinarily sell.

"We feel they're overpaying, and significantly overpaying for a number of things that they're purchasing," McCarter told reporters just before the release of the report. "Clearly they could be acquiring these devices for a lot less money."

For example, McCarter found that the government-approved price for a monitor that typically costs vendors around $250 is $1,332 — more than a four-fold markup.

The report also says the Health Ministry knew some health-care workers who prescribe the devices were potentially in a conflict of interest because of connections to the sellers, yet only rarely took action.

McCarter added he is concerned about how much the government is paying for its telephone medical advice service, Telehealth.

It costs the government $39 per call, twice the price in other provinces, McCarter said.

"We actually found they'd really done no analysis or no followup whatsoever about why we're paying $39 and other provinces could be paying significantly less," he said.

One out of every four callers hangs up before getting through to a nurse, he added.

McCarter also said the government needs to better promote Telehealth because the number of calls each year is declining.

More work on bridges needed
The auditor's report also said Ontario's roadways also need more attention, as inspections of bridges across the province are not thorough enough.

At least 180 bridges are deemed to be in poor condition, but the government has not budgeted any money in its capital plan for the next year to fix one-third of them, McCarter wrote.

He found most of the 2,800 bridges under provincial jurisdiction are not being adequately inspected.

There are another 12,000 bridges that are the responsibility of local municipalities across Ontario, but "the province doesn't have the authority to inquire into the adequacy of municipal bridge inspection and maintenance processes."


Corruption charges stayed against 3 Toronto officers

An Ontario court has thrown out corruption charges against three Toronto police officers, including the son of a former police chief.

Superior Court Justice Bonnie Croll stayed the charges Monday, ruling that William McCormack Jr., Rick McIntosh and George Kouroudis were denied their right to a fair trial because of excessive delays.

The officers were charged with multiple offences in 2003, including influence peddling and breach of trust. McCormack and McIntosh were charged with soliciting and accepting bribes from nightclub owners in the entertainment district.

McCormack, 50, is the son of former Toronto police chief William McCormack and brother of current police union chief Mike McCormack. McIntosh, 55, is the former head of the police union.

Kouroudis was a police constable who also ran a club called Lotus in the entertainment district.

The judge said it was mainly the fault of the prosecution that it took six years to bring the case to court. She blamed the lead police investigator for the lengthy delays.

This is the second time in two years that corruption charges have been stayed against Toronto police officers.

In January 2008, Crown delays led to charges being stayed against six former members of the drug squad. That ruling was overturned on appeal in October 2009.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cop probed for harassing 'rats'

I'm beyond shocked by the author of this article, this is not his style
Rob you finally get props from me, not that that means much!

Funny I can't find any information on the Breton Berthiaume incident!


A veteran Toronto cop allegedly called fellow officers "rats" and then tailed their cruiser after they charged an off-duty Halton police officer with impaired driving.

More than 20 Toronto Police officers are being interviewed by internal affairs following the weekend arrest near the Halton cop's High Park home.

The force is also looking at the actions of senior officers who possibly allowed the confrontation to happen.

The scope of the probe goes beyond the individual officer and will look at "what happened and what didn't happen, and what should have," Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash said.

"Preferential treatment for police officers undermines the relationship with those we are sworn to serve and protect," Pugash said.

No charges have been filed but he said the investigation is a high priority for the service.

Breton Berthiaume, 28, a constable assigned to Halton's Oakville district who joined the service in January 2008, was arrested by two 11 Division cops, one who has less than a year's service, early Saturday morning on High Park Ave.

Berthiaume was taken to 22 Division for a breathalyzer test.

But, sources said, a veteran with about 20 years on the force and based at the Etobicoke station berated the 11 Division officers who arrested Berthiaume, who was subsequently charged with impaired driving.

One police source said the veteran reportedly called the arresting officers "rats."

The comments apparently were made on the station's internal PA system, but no one with Toronto Police would comment on that report.

When the arresting officers left 22 Division to return to southwest Toronto, the veteran officer allegedly followed them.

The officers were spooked by his behaviour and blew through a red light, sources said.

They were then given a ticket by the veteran officer for driving through the light.

Berthiaume, who was off work with an injury, is now suspended with pay, but a Halton police spokesman, Sgt. Brian Carr, said it's expected he'll soon be assigned to administrative duty.

Toronto Sun